Everyone really wants us to have these evidence-based practices, and we're going back to practice-based evidence. We look in our history, and we look at the way our children were raised and people in the community are supported and taught and have that sense and connection, that we know by the practices that we have, our traditional practices that we have the evidence to show that we have had success in the past in doing this.
In the latest episode of our podcast series, our host Juan Carlos Areán from Futures Without Violence speaks with Aldo Seoane and Greg Grey Cloud, co-founders of Wica Agli, and Jeremy NeVilles-Sorell, the director of the National Native Coalition of Men’s Programs, about their abusive partner intervention program in South Dakota and their national work to improve safety and prevent domestic and sexual violence within the indigenous community. In this episode, they talk about the importance of culturally-responsive programming in the pursuit to end domestic violence, highlighting the benefits of reconnecting Native men with their roots and building abusive partner intervention programs using practice-based evidence, shared culture, and storytelling.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
JUAN CARLOS AREÁN: Hello. My name is Juan Carlos Areán, and I'm the program director in the children and youth program at Futures Without Violence. We're partnering with the Center for Court Innovation on the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Project, an initiative funded by the Office on Violence Against Women. We provide training and technical assistance to community across the country to help them enhance their abusive partner intervention and engagement strategies. We are producing a podcast series focused on innovations and trends in abusive partner intervention programming, also known as battering intervention programs.
Today I have the pleasure to be joined by Jeremy NeVilles-Sorell, Aldo Seoane, and Greg Grey Cloud from the program Wica Agli in South Dakota which also does plenty of national work as we will hear. They'll be talking with us today about their approach when working with Native men who use violence. Thank you all so much for joining us today. Let's start with Jeremy with a more general question. Can you give our listeners a sense of the scope of the problem of domestic violence in Native communities in the United States?
JEREMY NEVILLES-SORELL: Yes, certainly. One of the biggest issues we have in addressing violence across the country is that, because of jurisdictions and where Native people are located on and off reservations, we have a good 50% plus off reservation and then a lot of non-Native people on reservations. So, we have to deal with a bunch of non-Indians perpetrating crimes against Native women. When you're on the reservation, you're limited to how much authority you have over that person as far as prosecutions and making arrests and then when you're in larger urban areas you tend to be a small, invisible population. So, that's one of the reasons why we have the highest rates crimes against Native women in the country than any other group. So, as we do our work, we're constantly out there bringing awareness, trying to inform people, both Native and non-Native people. Because, if we want to make this change for Native women in society, we have to be working in and out of Indian Country.
AREÁN: Very interesting. I think that's a piece of information that a lot of people, certainly non-Native people, do not know. Anything to add, Aldo or Greg?
ALDO SEOANE: This is Aldo. I think another key piece is we do have a large rural population and getting access to services in order to help both the survivors and batterers is really hindered by the lack of just physical infrastructure, be it access to transportation or access to something as simple as the internet or phones. That also has a big impact on our communities.
AREÁN: I imagine this is particularly true right now during COVID when many programs are using Zoom or the internet to meet, and there's a real inequity from urban to rural communities. Thank you. In this context, can you share a brief overview of Wica Agli and its program?
SEOANE: Well, Wica Agli actually was started by Greg Grey Cloud. So, brother Greg had a vision of be-ing able to help men change who have committed domestic and sexual violence. Greg and I had a visit with several of the other men in the community. We said, "Well, how do we go back to what we know is traditional about how men are supposed to act in relationship to women and children?" We started focusing on bringing back those cultural techniques, those cultural understandings of what healthy masculinity is, and then we started to merge it with the Men Who Choose to Batter curriculum to help men find not only a reason for where maybe some of their uses of violence come from and how to change that, but also how to integrate our traditional culture to go ahead and combat that transgener-ational and historical trauma so that we can become better men.
AREÁN: Thank you, Aldo. I'll continue with Greg. Why is important to have a culturally specific approach when working with Native American men?
GREG GREY CLOUD: I think when we're dealing with an issue of domestic violence a lot of the men that we work with we find that are lost in their culture or may have forgotten about their origin and teach-ings of the dynamics between men and women. So, we call it reeducation, meaning we reteach or re-introduce our own Lakota culture to the men that we work with. And when we reintroduce the culture to the men, it's like an instant connection to thousands of years of ancestral knowledge. Once we con-nect the men to their ancestral knowledge, it's like plugging into a power outlet. The men don't always understand right away, but they start to grow an understanding that they have within their connection of culture and their connection to their partners, the women in their lives.
The culture is very, very important with the men as far as how we utilize it in the men's classes. A lot of times I involve the spiritual portion of our culture, the prayer and A lot of times we'll do a smudge, but the men have an avenue to connect to themselves. They have a way to connect to the culture on their very own. When we're reintroducing people of culture to their culture, they get to learn a new respect for their culture, their partners, and their families.
AREÁN: Thank you, Greg. Greg already talked a little bit about some of the traditional practices that you have incorporated like smudging and then sometimes praying. Aldo, what other practices do you have that make you different from what I would call mainstream programs? What does make Wica Agli different?
SEOANE: Well, I think it's very unique to who we are as a people. So, I think the fact that simply our culture's rooted in matriarchy instead of patriarchy is a huge shift there. When we start to relate back to why we use our energy in particular ways or make choices in a particular fashion, it's always rooted in honoring the feminine. I think some of the other things that make us extremely unique are things like our equine facilitated mental health approaches and our own unique history and culture that has a lot of cultural stories and teachings about domestic and sexual violence and why we don't support that type of behavior within our communities.
AREÁN: Thank you so much. Jeremy, often the APIP field has marginalized culturally specific approaches like yours by assuming that they only work for certain populations. What do you think mainstream programs can learn from Wica Agli's approach to working with men?
NEVILLES-SORELL: It's always been a main priority in our communities to have balance. It's to have balance within self, have balance within your relationships and family and community and society so everything's all working together, and that's how people survive. Anything that topples that balance then disrupts harmony in a home and in a community. So, when you're trying to live communally as a group, anything that brings disharmony to the community disrupts the community. There's all kinds of teach-ings around that.
One of the things that we always go back to is saying, "How is it that your ways of doing things are somewhat different or unique, and how do you know going back to culture is effective?" and we say we always look at our history. Traditionally throughout history, prior to colonization, we had low levels of violence. We had violence, but it wasn't at these astronomical numbers. So, we know we had teachings about balance. We know within our stories about how we were raised to respect women and respect the environment and people around us and how all of us, no matter what age we are, we all bring a gift.
Children bring honesty and forgiveness. You don't see kids holding onto grudges. Those are things we as adults teach children to do. We tell people to be resentful. Then there's teenagers. We didn't have the same issues of looking down as adolescents as being trouble makers, because when you're trying to maintain authority over adolescents, that's when you get into the power struggle. But if you use your role as an adult, knowing that a teen is trying to implement things they learned when they were younger to figure out their own adult life, we know that we're creating opportunities for them to try and fail and have success and learn from that. Then as adults, we support each other as being responsible to take care of the community. And then we get to the elder phase. You're now a teacher. You've got to pass all of those lessons back.
So, we pull in those teachings, and that's for everyone. People can all learn from the same practices. When we look around in those people who have really tight connection with culture, we all have the same foundations, how important family is and having balance and being connected with yourself. So, these kind of lessons are guiding you as how you can be the best person that you could be.
AREÁN: That's great, Jeremy. Thank you. Aldo or Greg, would you like to add anything about what mainstream programs can learn from your approach?
GREY CLOUD: I think mainstream programs can learn a great deal using emotions. I think is what really ties it down and makes it different. When you work with men in an emotional context, you involve having to try a lot more, having to have sincere and earnest conversations with men about finding the root of their violence and digging it back into childhood. I think a lot of times in mainstream media, we don't get as emotionally involved. But in order to move forward in something, you have to heal from something as well. We work towards healing childhood traumas. Then we're able to move forward in a nonviolent way.
AREÁN: Thank you, Greg.
SEOANE: The only thing I was going to add to that piece is just the fact that we can't afford to lose our relatives, not only in our communities, because it would have been difficult to survive during the older times, but in contemporary contexts. Because of genocide, because of everything that we've experienced as a people, we can't afford to lose the men in our communities, and we need to make them stronger and healthier. So, I think in that way too, when we're looking at the men that come into our programs, we see them as relatives in the sense that we have an obligation to try and help them find their path, one that's beneficial, one that's healthy for our communities, is a good example for the young men in the community of how to be responsible and protect the women and children of our communities. So, I think that that's a valuable aspect that we bring is that people aren't disposable.
AREÁN: That's great, Aldo. Thank you so much. I can actually relate to that, what you're talking about, in terms of other culturally specific programs that work with Latinos, which I'm very familiar with, but also with African Americans. Same idea. I think that's why programs that work with nonwhite populations have had a different approach for many years and have been leading in my opinion some of the strategies that are most effective. I'd like to go back to Jeremy, since you have done for decades national work. Why do you think mainstream APIPs, have resisted looking at culture, and I mean culture broadly, as an approach to working with men?
NEVILLE-SORELL: I think it's the ability to measure effectiveness. How do you do something one way and show that it works? One of the biggest things they look at is recidivism. How does someone's attitude change after 32 weeks, 52 weeks of a group. You're talking the range of three months to one year to change someone's attitude who is ... If they're a 40-year-old man, they've got 40 years to un-do, and you want to expect someone to do that within a total of 32 to at best 80 hours? If someone's going through 52 weeks and it's an hour and a half group, they're not getting a whole lot of opportunity to really put things into practice when you look at it. Who could learn a job in two weeks? Who's going to change their life within two weeks of time, that same equivalent?
So, the effectiveness is always around, so, how do you evaluate that? Everyone really wants us to have these evidence-based practices, and we're going back to practice-based evidence. We look in our history, and we look at the way our children were raised and people in the community are supported and taught and have that sense and connection, that we know by the practices that we have, our traditional practices that we have the evidence to show that we have had success in the past in doing this. Instead of just trying to flip things around and saying mathematically and everywhere else that we could replicate and have the same numbers by doing X, Y, and Z within a program that is based on these cognitive skills or activities and whatever education points, but we can go back to our cultural teachings.
By reiterating this knowledge and retraining and re-exposing men to things that they probably should have learned growing up, we're bringing this knowledge and benefit to them and seeing that that change is effective and that it is working.
AREÁN: Thank you, Jeremy.
GREY CLOUD: I think with that, the resistance for looking at culture as an approach to work with men is our culture almost requires us to go back to when we were hurt or when we stopped growing as a young man or as a child or as a man, go back to that trauma. It almost requires us to do that, because we cannot move forward in our culture to find new and healthy understandings if we're still hurt our-selves. And we're not looking out in a healing way. We're more protecting ourselves. So, we kind of put the guards up. But our culture almost requires us to go back to that.
And how we do that is I use horses. We use horses to turn a man into a child, when that child is vulner-able, and then we create a safe place for them to heal and talk about the things that hurt them. I think that's how, what I was talking about, we dig into a journey using emotions. The mainstream APIPs have resisted that, because it's much harder to do. It's not oftentimes taught in any of the models nationally. But our culture teaches us to be better relatives towards each other, and how can I be a bet-ter relative than to listen to them, by listening to their hurts and pains and struggles in their lives and offer better avenues of healing?
AREÁN: That's very great, Greg. Thanks so much. Aldo, if you have anything else to add about the resistance of the mainstream and working with culture.
SEOANE: Well, I think that there's a couple of things with that. On one level, our spirituality's interwoven into our language. So, there is no separation between our religious beliefs and our day-to-day life. I think that there's a hesitancy in Western approaches when it comes towards spirituality. I think also academia, the English language, and patriarchy have really offered a disservice to a lot of mental health. I mean, it was barely 2014 when SAMHSA said that mindfulness is a useful tool when we've been practicing that for thousands of years, and I think because of Western systems of thought, they really have been dismissive towards our indigenous practices and life ways that are rooted in healing the whole person from when they're a child to where they are today. It goes back to the same things Jeremy said about evidence-based practices and practice-based evidence. We've been doing these things for thousands of years, and it's been helping our people. Western society is really rooted in systematic oppression and racism, and it's dismissive of anything other than what it looks like.
Even hitting our goals of performance or how we can look at our own people, it's being looked at through the oppressor's lens or someone else's lens who's actually caused our trauma instead of being able to look at it from our own community's perspectives or our people's eyes.
AREÁN: Thank you so much, Aldo. How do you take into account the voices of survivors in your organization, Aldo?
SEOANE: In our organization, the voices of survivors are rooted in our relationship that we have with our aunties. Our aunties and our grandmothers are active participants within our organization. Because we live in community and operate in community, our grandmothers are constantly telling us and re-minding us of what our roles are and how we can help the survivors in our communities. We also work closely with the shelter. So, in our relationship to the shelter, we're also provided valuable feedback from those survivors and a lot of times Greg and I will end up having conversations with some of the advocate staff at the shelter that's telling us about the changes that the men have made that have come through the program. It's a real benefit to be able to do that, because we can help curb behaviors and help navigate difficult conversations that we might not necessarily know of if we hadn't heard from the survivor.
AREÁN: Thank you so much. Greg, anything else you would like to ask about taking into account the voices of survivors?
GREY CLOUD: Yeah. When working with violent perpetrators, a lot of other programs might want to involve the victims, meaning maybe if they were required to do something as a part of the class. Brother and I talked about this early on. For those two hours that we have a court-ordered time with the men, it creates a safer time, for the women to essentially escape or go or find somebody to move them out or kind of create a safer place for themselves. But there are ways for those that are trying to work on things and build and heal There are ways with aunties, kunies, and grandmothers and cicis in the community. We're able to grow with each other, but really be accountable to them, and that creates a very supportive role when dealing with the victims of the men that we work with and their support of the program.
AREÁN: Thanks so much. Jeremy, anything to add about that?
NEVILLES-SORELL: One of the ways on the national level is that it's really working with people and planning out whatever training or whatever goals that they want. We collaborate a lot with the tribal coalitions and tribal programs. We're not coming in and trying to be like, "This is the way that you all need to be trained and how we're training it, and this is the direction." It's really matching what is the needs in your community and what are you trying to achieve and match it up that way. So, we're really working with the programs. Pretty much all the programs we work with are the advocacy programs and women-run programs. So, having that connection and that relationship is important. Then also the people tell us what they need from programming, so the material, curriculum. One of the biggest issues, for an example, is that womanizing is not on the power and control wheel. They talk about this tactic. So, they have a lot of stuff about economic control where women are kept from having jobs and things like that, but one of the issues that we're seeing in Native community and what the voices of women directing it are saying, "What we have is a lot of men who live off of women in the community." So, they're broke, but they go from house to house or couch to couch, and they leech off of women. It's not necessarily in one community, but you start hearing about it, and then you start pointing it out, and then you start having more and more people talk about it and saying, "This is one of these issues that's a different way of financial control." So, even talking about economic abuse, even changing some of our terminology to economic control. Even though the guy doesn't make the money, not on the lease, whatever it is, he still has control of all the finances in the house. Those are some of those ways that we're pulling in those themes and things that we're hearing from women in the community.
AREÁN: Thank you. Very interesting. Going back to Greg, how do you train and support your staff in engaging in this culturally specific approach?
GREY CLOUD: Well, the skills that we build are the emotional communication skills and brother Jeremy was talking about identifying the needs in each individual's community. It was an emotional under-standing. So, to teach those types of emotions we have to first acknowledge them within ourselves. When we go in down into the emotions within ourselves, I think a lot of the times it goes to the emotions that we're most afraid of. So, we kind of develop better understandings underneath the emotions when training ourselves. When we're stepping into this work, even six years ago, even up until most recently before COVID hit, we're still learning in the understanding of emotional connections with people.
AREÁN: Thank you, Greg. Aldo, anything else you would like to add about training and supporting the staff?
SEOANE: No. I agree that the foundation for all of that is reaching back and figuring out why we have hurts and what are the hurts that are within us causing other people to feel that energy. One thing that we talk a lot about with the men both that are coming on to help facilitate some of the camps that we work on, but also with them as participants of the program, is forgiving ourselves for the hurt that was imparted on us without our consent. It's really learning about how do we forgive ourselves for the trauma that we were exposed to as children so that we don't perpetuate that trauma and just constantly finding our center through the book work or from our traditional ceremonial ways. When we greet each other in the morning and we check in with one another, we're reminding ourselves of where we need to stand and how to be good relatives.
AREÁN: Thank you, Aldo. Jeremy, anything to add about that?
NEVILLES-SORELL: One of the areas that we're working on developing is pulling in some of our traditional teachings into our curriculum as training facilitators. So, we have Native-specific concepts in our material for facilitators. As Greg and Aldo are talking about, this is how we change ourselves as individuals. As we train other people to do batterers intervention work as facilitators, we have these concepts that we're pulling in and ways of speaking or engaging people. I love how Greg talks about why we do third-party storytelling.
We've got another lesson from one of our Alaskan elders who talks about the cadence in which Native people speak, and he's talking about ... He said, "Notice how the old people, how they always spoke. They said a few words at a time and then a pause, and then a few words at a time and a pause." And he's going on to talk about the reason why we speak that way isn't to sound all dramatic; it is so that we stay centered with our thoughts. It matches in Ojibwe teaching is saying, when you're speaking your truth, you're speaking from your heart. That's where your experience is. So, when you're speaking your truth, speaking from the heart, you're talking about your experience. And you notice when people recount stories talk about experience, they don't do a lot of vocal fillers like ahs and ums and pauses like that. Right? They usually generally rattle through a story pretty quick. Can be very excited about it and say it really fast but without any mix-ups with their speech. And when people are trying to explain something as educators, they do tend to pause more, try to be more articulate, and then they'll fumble.
When we're storytelling or speaking from that experience, we’re trying to impart or pass on to other people, we have those pauses in there, and we say a few words in that cadence. So, it’s for us as teachers not to get ahead of ourselves and then it's also for the listeners so that the listeners can stay at pace with you and absorb the information at the same time. So, you're not moving too fast or too slow, because you know when you're listening to someone tell a story your mind starts to go to different places. And if the person's talking too fast, they're going to move without you, and then you're locked up in your daydream off to the side of whatever thought it produced and not keeping pace. So, those are some of the pieces that we're incorporating in it that are culturally based as well and doing skills development around it.
AREÁN: Very interesting. Thank you so much, Jeremy. Anything else you would like to add? We're coming to our close. Let's start with Jeremy again.
NEVILLES-SORELL: Just wanted to throw in there the piece around just men of color in general. When we talk about our culturally based practices and issues around APIPs and batterers' intervention is that we're seeing that shift where people are addressing the trauma as the men are coming in, because we have so much historical trauma within men of color that we have to be able to address those simulta-neously along with their violence. When I came into this work in the '90s, it was all about " Nope, you ain't addressing anyone's trauma. This is about holding them accountable, and we've got to keep it fo-cused on their violence. And then when they're done with that, we could help them deal with their trauma." That's been one of the shifts. It's really important for that healing. Like Aldo and Greg were saying, that trauma blocks you from seeing things and moving forward. So, if we're not addressing the trauma, we're not as effective as interventionists in changing this behavior. We're seeing that switch definitely nowadays.
AREÁN: Yes. Thank you, Jeremy. That's something that some mainstream programs are starting to in-corporate, what now is called trauma informed or trauma centered. But again, it's interesting that of course some programs like yours or for other programs that people of color have started, that has been around for a long time. So, thanks for pointing that out.
GREY CLOUD: I'd like to touch on that third-party storytelling brother Jeremy was talking about as our way of helping navigate personal understandings with the men that we work with, that we developed that type of way of talking in third person. So, whether we're telling a personal story of our own trauma or we're sharing something that we've learned about somebody else's trauma in story form, we don't necessarily say me or "When I went through something." When you do a third-party ... In my language, hokshila means boy. So, a lot of times we'll tell a story about hokshila. Now, again, whether it be Jeremy's, Aldo's, or my story, boy, hokshila, is still the same. When we're telling a story of the things that you've gone through, hokshila has gone through in his life and what he felt and what was around him, it really creates a space where the men who are listening... They're able to personalize it and put themselves in the shoes of hokshila and take from the story what they relate to. There, they're able to learn and grow and heal from some things.
So, when talking about hokshila, there's a little boy inside each of every one of us as men, and that little boy is as men, stop growing. That's where we're kind of searching for somebody to help protect us. So, when I relate that to boys learning from women and learning from the things that our mothers taught us, I think each and every one of us is part of wica. We were raised by women, or we had women in our lives, and the men that were in our lives were violent.
When doing this type of work, we just want to assure women that the work that we do is for you. It's for them. So, all the aunties and mothers and grandmothers and sisters and cousins out there, the work that we're doing is essentially for you in return for the women that raised us boys to be men. We're really thankful for the ways that we were raised and really thankful for the things that we were given.
AREÁN: Beautiful. Thank you, Greg. Aldo, is there anything else you would like to add?
SEOANE: No. Just a sincere appreciation for giving us the opportunity to share a little bit about what we're doing to help the men in our community become better relatives to the women and children in our community.
AREÁN: Well, thank you so much. This is one of those conversations that we probably could continue going for a while, so, thank you, Jeremy, Aldo, and Greg for joining us today. Over the course of our podcast series, we will be touching on several other topics including trauma-centered APIPs, other culturally relevant programming, victim and survivor safety, and working in communities of faith. To find the rest of our podcast series, you can visit our national clearinghouse on abusive partner intervention programming at courtinnovation.org/abusivepartnerresources.
To learn more about our project or request technical assistance, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about our organizations at our websites, wicaagli.org, and that's spelled W-I-C-A-A-G-L-I, dot org. futureswithoutviolence.org, and courtinnovation.org, Thank you very much for listening. Until next time.